La Jolla Centenarians: Bill Vogt travels the world in service to his country and plays role in San Diego fast-food history

Bill Vogt, at age 100, reflects on his life in La Jolla with his wife, Lillian, during an interview at his Hidden Valley Hills home. Pat Sherman

Bill Vogt’s ‘Bill of Goods’
Favorite movie: ‘Casablanca’
Currently reading: ‘The Last Lion’ (Winston Spencer Churchill trilogy)
Favorite food: ‘A good old filet mignon, medium rare.’
Favorite travel destination: Venice, Italy and Switzerland
Key to his longevity: ‘I have my bourbon cocktail every day — bourbon and water,’ Vogt quipped, noting that he kept active playing tennis and golf. In recent years he said caring for his wife, Lillian, who suffered a stroke, has given his life profound meaning. ‘I can’t give anybody a recipe for living longer,’ the Padres’ fan said. ‘Life is really just a matter of timing and luck … of medical science and common sense.’

Editor’s Note: As part of La Jolla Light’s 100th publishing anniversary this year, we are featuring interviews with fellow centenarians throughout 2013. If you know a La Jollan who is 100 years old, please send an e-mail to or call (858) 875-5950.

By Pat Sherman

Though Bill Vogt’s naval career took him from Kodiak, Alaska, to the Mariana Islands and elsewhere around the globe, he maintains there is no place he would rather be than in La Jolla.

“I’ve never been any place that could compare to it,” said Vogt, a retired Navy commander who celebrated his 100 birthday Feb. 17 with family from around the country at Su Casa Mexican restaurant (his actual birthday was Feb. 12).

“I used to come out (on the street car) and go swimming in the Cove when I was in elementary school,” Vogt enthused. “My dad and I used to fish down at Spindrift. I love La Jolla.”

As part of La Jolla Light’s 100th publishing anniversary this year, we are featuring interviews with fellow centenarians throughout 2013. If you know a La Jollan who is 100 years old, please e-mail or call (858) 875-5950.

Despite these treasured excursions, when Vogt’s wife, Lillian, first began eyeing vacant parcels in the Hidden Valley Hills subdivision above Torrey Pines Road, Vogt said he wasn’t keen to live “up on the hill.” At the time, he was working at the Pentagon and more partial to a future in Rancho Santa Fe.

“But my dear wife here was determined that we were going to live in La Jolla when we retired,” he said, motioning to Lillian Vogt, who responded with a good-natured laugh and a wave of her hand, “he lies.”

It was 1958. Vogt purchased the first lot in Hidden Valley Hills and returned to Virginia and his career at the Pentagon.

However, he noted, “I kept getting people (contacting me) saying, ‘I’d like to buy your lot. How much do you want to pay?’ ” Vogt eventually hired Harry Collins (whose family owned La Valencia Hotel) to build his house. He and Lillian moved into the ocean-view home in 1966, where they have resided since.

Early years
Born in Phoenix, Vogt moved with his family to La Mesa at age 6. His father worked as a credit manager for John D. Spreckels (owner of San Diego’s Union and Evening Tribune newspapers). Coming from a family of gifted musicians (including his mother, a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music), Vogt took up the piano.

During Prohibition, he performed jazz and pop standards at honky-tonks and south of the border at places such as the legendary Hussong’s Cantina in Ensenada.

“His mother didn’t want him to play in some of these rougher places because he was only 16,” said Vogt’s son, Bob, noting, “at 100 he can still play the piano beautifully.”

Vogt graduated from San Diego State University in 1934 with a degree in business, and went on to work with the National Youth Administration, a New Deal program co-founded by Eleanor Roosevelt that provided education and employment to youth ages 16 to 25.

Vogt said he took advantage of the program because there were no jobs.

“My father and brother were rabid Republicans and they didn’t think I should have anything to do with those kinds of programs,” he said. “When my father died, they found all his social security checks in his safe. (He believed) that was government charity, so he didn’t cash them.”

Vogt joined the Navy Reserve in 1940. He was duck hunting on a rice farm near Sacramento when he heard grumblings from Europe on the radio, and knew war was imminent. He returned to Los Angeles where a telegram on his door awaited, commanding him to report for duty. He answered the call Dec. 9, 1941.

Bill Vogt in his Naval uniform, circa 1965. Courtesy

A fast-food idea
While reporting for duty at Navy Base San Diego, Vogt ran into college friend Bob Peterson, who was also reporting for duty.

While standing guard that night, the reunited college chums played gin rummy, ruminating on what they would do after the war ended.

Their answer: Good, inexpensive food served quickly.

Vogt and Peterson reconnected in San Diego at the end of the war, and resumed their discussions.

Peterson’s father, an accountant for Hages Dairy, learned of a drive-in restaurant in National City that couldn’t pay its bills. Vogt borrowed $15,000 from his father and in 1946, the budding entrepreneurs procured the lease, changing the name to Oscar’s (Bob Peterson’s middle name).

“I didn’t think we could go very far,” Vogt recalled. “With no money, how could we build?”

Despite Vogt’s misgivings, they walked out of First National Bank with a $75,000 loan. Aided by Peterson’s father and brother, they went on to operate four Oscar’s locations, serving hamburgers, chicken, shrimp and milkshakes.

The push to open more restaurants and establish lines of credit was an ambitious plan, but one that Vogt ultimately opted out of. After two years, Peterson bought him out and continued expanding the business, later changing its name to Jack-in- the-Box.

“Of course, that’s where I made the fatal mistake,” Vogt confided, with only a passing regret. “I was naïve, let’s put it that way. I should have gone to (my own) accountant, but I didn’t do that.”

Vogt would find his true fortune in Coronado, where he and Peterson had operated an Oscar’s location. While at a dentist’s appointment there, he became smitten an assistant named Lillian, whom he married June 15, 1946.

After a few varied business adventures, including the development of family land in La Mesa and his failed attempt to create the first ice cream vending machines (the technology just wasn’t there, he said), Vogt went on to a distinguished career in Naval intelligence.

Vogt’s daughter, Fallbrook resident Michelle Moss, attributes her father’s longevity to his resilience and positive outlook. “He’s never owned a computer, but he’s so interested in everything,” she said. “I think that’s the key to his mind being so sharp. He’s always reading and looking for the answer to everything, from politics to scientific invention.”

Son Bob Vogt, of Napa, concurred that his father is “one of the most intellectually curious people that I’ve ever known.

“He understands that life has its ups and downs, and he’s basically able to roll with a lot of punches,” he said. “I’d like to think some of that rubbed off on me.”

In the next issue, we’ll introduce you to La Jolla centenarian, Virginia Andrews, in this series that also celebrates the La Jolla Light’s 100th anniversary in 2013.

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  3. Premium wines gathered for upcoming Bishop’s School auction, gala in La Jolla
  4. En Garde! Bet your buns there’s a burger war going on … in La Jolla
  5. One religion’s cozy storefront has storied history in The Village

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Posted by Pat Sherman on Mar 5, 2013. Filed under Featured Story, Life. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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